Nothing will ever convince Okolie Ngozi that Mondays are no longer days of sit-at-home curfew in Imo.
Even after listening to a radio programme confirming that Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South East, had put an end to the controversial restriction on movements, she remained inside with her children last Monday.
This is because she still feels bitter about what happened on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.
Her husband, Okolie Aloysius, a mechanic in Okporo, a community in Imo’s Orlu Local Government Area (LGA), was shot dead by armed people who attacked the community.
The deceased was on his way to his workshop when he was accosted.
“They shot my husband and ran away,” she recalled. “He left six children for me to look after. So, I can’t risk going out on Mondays because who will help me take care of the children if I get killed like their father?”
The assailants, who were said to be IPOB militants, also destroyed various shops in the community for not obeying their sit-at-home order.
Like Ngozi, many other Nigerians in the region are battling the pains of losing their loved ones or dealing with the harm inflicted on them by terrorists enforcing the sit-at-home curfew.
Why the curfew?
Sit-at-home is a protest against the incarceration of IPOB leader Kanu, who was arrested in 2015 after years of calling for the restoration of an independent state of Biafra, comprising the current South East and the South-South regions.
At various times, he urged his loyalists to take up arms against the state. In a bid to demand his release, his followers declared Mondays and Kanu’s trial dates forbidden for business activities.
Even when curfew violators are not killed, consequences are severe. Their businesses are destroyed by members of the IPOB’s Eastern Security Network (ESN), who move around to enforce the unlawful curfew.
In a recent handwritten letter dated July 24, 2023, Kanu put an end to the sit-at-home practice. According to his counsel, Aloy Ejimakor, he issued the directive to Simon Ekpa, a self-acclaimed Kanu disciple who rose to prominence in July 2021.
“Simon, this is a direct order from me. I hereby instruct you to desist from calling for any Sit-at-Home henceforth. Equally refrain from antagonising Governors or persons in political positions because you are not in a position to know what they are doing on my behalf,” he wrote in a letter confirmed genuine by his brother Prince Emmanuel Kanu.
“I am ordering you to make a public announcement to the effect that you are in receipt of a direct order from me to cancel any pending sit-at-home in place at the moment. I embarked on this movement to liberate our people, not to enslave them. I despise and will despise any person or entity that wishes to inflict unnecessary hardship on our people.
“I have authorised Aloy to issue a press statement if you fail to make this announcement on your platform.”
According to Ejimakor, Kanu said anyone who still engages in sit-at-home after his letter is not his disciple.
But in a swift reaction on X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter), Ekpa described the letter as an insult. “As the Prime Minister of Biafra under the leadership of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, I call on all Biafrans to disregard the fake letter coming from DSS,” he wrote.
He later released a video on July 30, saying that Kanu should not be held accountable for the terror group’s agitation.
“The reason for us not taking orders anymore from the DSS dungeon is to safeguard our leader. We want our leader to be safe. We want to exonerate our leader from anything that Biafrans will be doing for his own best interests,” he said.
“So, any actions that Biafra people will be taking in Biafra land, don’t attach Mazi Nnamdi Kanu to it. Any actions that Biafrans will be taking in Biafra land for the freedom of Biafra, freedom of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, and freedom of all prisoners of conscience, do not bring Mazi Nnamdi Kanu to it.”
Other futile attempts to end curfew
In a bid to reinforce Kanu’s directive, IPOB’s spokesperson, Emma Powerful, on Aug. 6, said Mondays would now be known as economic empowerment days in the South East. The separatist group has, since Aug. 12, begun the distribution of flyers and posters across the region to convey the message.
But even after all of these, Ekpa maintained that the sit-at-home curfew has not been suspended.
“There is nothing like economic empowerment in Biafra within Nigeria. We will extend the Monday sit at home till Tuesdays. This will be mandatory for everyone in Biafraland,” he insisted.
“Since these criminals and corrupt politicians are taking us for granted, (we) will continue to crush the Nigeria economy from the Eastern region. Biafrans should wait for the announcement.”
It is not the first time the original IPOB faction has disassociated itself from Ekpa’s actions, but residents, who had in the past experienced the deadly activities of militants, continue to obey the curfew.
Has Kanu lost his influence?
Following the rearrest of Kanu in 2021, a Finland-based agitator, Ekpa, was announced as the lead broadcaster of Radio Biafra. He was, however, disengaged two weeks later for his refusal to sign Radio Biafra’s rules of engagement.
“The global family of the IPOB ably led by our great leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, has observed with regrets that Mazi Simon Ekpa, whom our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu gave an appointment and duty to start broadcasting on Radio Biafra doesn’t want to follow the laid down rules of operation in Radio Biafra,” Emma Powerful, IPOB’s spokesperson said.
Ekpa would later float another inciting online station known as the Enter Biafra Freedom Awareness Channels to instigate violence. His followers, known as the Autopilot, have been accused of fuelling the rise in terror activities in the region.
Recall that Anambra Governor Charles Soludo, after meeting Kanu, said the IPOB leader was sad over the killing and kidnapping of civilians in the region, “including the brutal enforcement of the senseless ‘sit-at-home’ perpetuated by sundry groups claiming to be acting for or on behalf of IPOB.” Factional leaders of the group who are opposed to Ekpa’s violent approach have echoed the same message.
Kanu’s family has also warned Ekpa to cease using his name and image in his broadcasts or fundraising activities.
Even after the recent handwritten letter and flyers by IPOB announcing Mondays as economic empowerment days, people are scared of either becoming victims of the IPOB militants prowling for collaborators or traitors to their cause or of security agents attacking citizens under the guise of maintaining law and order.
Kanu’s statement has not restored normalcy to the region. Most transport companies are yet to start operating on Mondays, having had their vehicles burnt in the past.
A look through social media posts by Autopilot accounts shows that they have continued to enforce the curfew in places like Akwa Ibom and Enugu this month. Ekpa’s group also claimed responsibility for an IED attack, which injured five soldiers and two police officers during an operation on July 31.
Residents told HumAngle that the Kanu’s letter and the flyers being distributed in the markets are not enough to end the curfew. While many hate the curfew, the risks attached to defying Ekpa’s order are unpredictable.
“Sit-at-home has gone beyond Kanu’s control. Ekpa makes orders and he has maintained that the curfew will continue until Kanu is released from detention. I can’t even disobey the sit-at-home curfew again because it cost me my vehicle in the past,” said Akpan Innocent, a resident of Enugu whose vehicle was once burnt by IPOB militants.
“I am still owing debt for the previous bus that got burnt during an attack. My past experience makes me see reasons to stay back indoors on Mondays or any other day declared for sit-at-home.”
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